There is boundless information these days on the importance of eating a balanced diet in order to nourish the body right? Well, that's all well and good, however, when was the last time you stopped to consider how important the proper nutrients are for the control center of our body. You know, the one that keeps us alive and is responsible for our thoughts, feelings, memory and concentration? It's even hard at work when we are asleep.
Nutritional psychiatry (aka Mental Health Nutrition) is a growing field that looks at the scientific evidence regarding nutritional interventions and mental health. For example, inflammation in the brain is thought to be a major cause of mental health illness which comes about after a long period of poor diet. So, what foods are best for keeping our brains well nourished? Let's dive in:
Particularly those that contain lots of omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon (especially wild caught), trout, sardines, mackerel and herring.
Why? Because approximately 60% of our brain is made of fat, and half of that is omega-3(2). Omega-3 is used by our brain to build brain and nerve cells and it is vital for our learning and memory (2,3). Not getting enough Omega-3 has been linked to depression (4).
Beautifully coloured berries - strawberries blackberries, blueberries, blackcurrants and mulberries are rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects which help our memory as we age, improve brain cell communication, and reduce depressive symptoms and (5, 6).
Nuts & Seeds
Nuts are full of omega-3 fatty acids, oxidants such as vitamin E. However, the key to eating nuts for brain health is in choosing those with specific benefits. The nut who wins the prize for the highest amount of omega -3 is the walnut. Walnuts also win for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (7). Almonds, hazelnuts and sunflower seeds win for the highest amount of vitamin E (an antioxidant), important for increased cognitive performance, reduced cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease (7).
Tea & Coffee
Caffeine blocks boots alertness, increases capacity for processing information, reduce risk of cognitive decline, stroke, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease (8, 9, 10). However, there are some individuals who may not be able to consume caffeine or need to be careful of its consumption due to the affects it has on sleep and anxiety symptoms.
These are a great source of the good unsaturated (monounsaturated) fat which improves blood flow and reduce blood pressure (11). They are high in tyrosine, a precursor to the brain chemical dopamine that keep us motivated and focused (12).
Greens reduce oxidative stress and lower risk of neurodegenerative disease. All greens are good, however, those that are jammed with nutrients include, Broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, romaine, arugula, collard greens and Swiss chard (13).
Containing cocoa/cacao that contains an antioxidant - good for combating oxidative stress in the brain and contributing to protecting us from age-related cognitive decline and brain diseases. Cocoa/cacao has been found to encourage neuron and blood vessel growth in memory and learning parts of the brain as well as stimulating blood flow to the brain (14).
Garlic, Onions, Chives, Leeks, Shallots......
Used for thousands of years for a reason! Garlic contains tons of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and has been found to protect the brain against disease and age-related difficulties, reduce blood pressure (15)
We may not have control over some things, however, lets take back the control that we can.
2. Wysoczański, T., Sokoła-Wysoczańska, E., Pękala, J., Lochyński, S., Czyż, K., Bodkowski, R., Herbinger, G., Patkowska-Sokoła, B., & Librowski, T. (2016). Omega-3 Fatty Acids and their Role in Central Nervous System - A Review. Current Medicinal Chemistry, 23(6) 816-831. DOI 10.2174/0929867323666160122114439
3. Rathod, R., Kale, A., & Joshi, S. (2016). Novel insights into the effect of vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids on brain function. Journal of Biomedical Science, 23(17). DOI 10.1186/s12929-016-0241-8
4. Py, L., & Kp, S. (2007). A meta-analytic review of double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of antidepressant efficacy of omega-3 fatty acids. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 68(7), 1056-1061. DOI 10.4088/jcp.v68n0712
5. Subash, S., Essa, M., Al-Adawi, S., Memon, M., Manivasagam, T., & Akbar, M. (2014). Neuroprotective effects of berry fruits on neurodegenerative diseases. Neural Regeneration Research, 9(16), 1557-1566. DOI 10.4103/1673-5374.139483.
6. Krikorian, R., Shidler, M. D., Nash, T. A., Kalt, W., Vinqvist-Tymchuk, M. R., Shukitt-Hale, B., & Joseph, J. A. (2010). Blueberry supplementation improves memory in older adults. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 58(7), 3996-4000. DOI 10.1021/jf9029332
7. La Fata, G., Weber, P., & Mohajeri, M.H. (2014). Effects of vitamin E on cognitive performance during ageing and in alzheimer's disease. Nutrients, 6(12), 5453-5472. DOI 10.3390/nu5125453
8. ZL, H., Z, Z., & WM, Q. (2014). Roles of adenosine and its receptors in sleep-wake regulation. International Review of Neurobiology, 119, 349-371. DOI 10.1016/B978-0-12-801022-8.00014-3
9. Chang, D., Song, D, Zhang, J., Shang, Y, Ge, Q., & Wang, Z. (2018). Caffeine caused a widespread incrase o resting brain entrophy. Scientific Reports, 8, 2700 DOI 10.1038/s41598-018-21008-6
10. Nehlig, A. (2016). Effects of coffee/caffeine on brain health and disease: What should I tell my patients? Practical Neurology, 16(2), 89-95. DOI 10.1136/practneurol-2015-001162
13. Morris, C.M., wang, Y., Barnes, L. L., Bennett, D. A., Dawson-Hughes, B., & Booth, W. (2018). Nutrients and bioactives in green leafy vegetales and cognitive decline. Neurology, 90(3), E-214-e-222. DOI 10.1212/WNL.0000000000004815
14. Nehlig, A. (2013). The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 75(3), 716-727. DOI 10.1111/j.1365-2125.2012.04378.x